Venture Capital’s Boom-and-Bust Cycle

I caught up with a venture capital investor this week who shared that he’s raised a new fund in the last six months that’s over $1 billion, but he hasn’t started deploying it yet. He’s still deploying from his last fund. As he put it, the new fund is “on the shelf” for now. This got me thinking about the amount of dry powder venture firms are sitting on and how this dynamic affects the cycle of the venture capital business.

I went and found an old interview of Bill Gurley. Gurley said Howard Marks told him that venture capital can’t avoid cyclicality and is a boom-and-bust business model. Here are the reasons Gurley listed:

  • A fund’s life cycle lasts a decade. Capital is committed, invested, and returned over in that period.
  • The business has low barriers to entry and high barriers to exit.
  • As markets begin to boom, capital floods in quickly.
  • As the market breaks, capital can’t go away quickly. It’s stuck because it’s been committed for a decade.
  • The vast majority of returns occur right at the end of the cycle.

VC is a boom-and-bust business model because of the way funds are structured. A boom is likely behind us. I wonder if the industry is ready for what comes next.